Calabar, the praise of betrayal

Eduardo Berliner, Apparition (Manifestation), 2016.


Commentary on the play by Ruy Guerra and Chico Buarque


The history of betrayal can also be the history of deceit, trickery and deceit in human discourse in power games and in the education of young generations. Rarely is the discourse on betrayal treated as a phenomenon of praxis, which makes the individual autonomous conscience dialogue with the clarity of social rights and self-determination in History. It occurs, however, in the theatrical work Calabar, the praise of betrayal, by Ruy Guerra and Chico Buarque, 1973.

In the clarifying movement of the play, the story of the betrayal can be the story of the emancipation of the person and his autonomous choices, as a rule rejected and censored by official discourses and practices, especially in the field of people's education, that is, in the systematization of culture. the absence of Calabar of the curriculum and extracurricular activities of Brazilian basic education for a long time, certainly delayed the debate that youth should have the right to have about the concept and human experiences of choices and their levels of consciousness in power building processes, which certainly rebounds in the analysis of economics, politics and culture. Calabar it is what it is not, or is what one does not want it to be. In times of repression, on the A side and on the B side, it disappears even more.

The speech, the song and the writing of the work of Chico Buarque and Ruy Guerra are therefore right, which dissolve the process of betrayals in a triple movement that this reading dares to call the state of history (alongside so many other states...), a kind of internalization of individual stories in the collective and aesthetic refoundation of narratives and arguments with a view to fundamental objectives of art in the authoritarian tradition of the territory shaken by colonial powers, still present in the political plots and in the condition of the majorities.


The movements of senses

The dramatic fabric of these movements has in the characters Frei Manoel and Bárbara its illuminating cores of the dialectical movement, whether in the relativization and naturalization of the theme of betrayal in the story that moves in the speeches, or in the physical and symbolic experience of the senses of betrayal by Domingos Fernandes Calabar and his autonomous posture in the heat of the colonial struggle. It is worth highlighting the movements of conscience worked on by Anna de Amsterdam, central to the development of the character Bárbara and her inflection on her dead.

Denied the betrayal of Calabar as evil, or as altruism and other myths of interest (in that sense of Northrop Frye), demystified all its facets of ethical value to be transmitted by official discourse, it is up to Barbara to challenge the history of everyone in the inflection that moves between the nominal people you and you. Even though the cultured language has no addressee in that popular which has become passive and flattering, its presence completes key songs, coherent with what is condensed in glass snake e Praise of Betrayal (pp. 92-93).[I] Maurício de Nassau's speeches, as well as Mathias de Albuquerque's, fade away and, at most, function as a counterpoint to the dramatic movement aimed at the always circumscribed human being and often trapped, if not discarded.

To this end, the very rude and imposing concept of the betrayal of the “mestizo young man” – now captain, now major – Domingos Fernandes Calabar disappears in the caricatured history of the Portuguese colony, present in many books of a history that miseducated generations of Brazilian elementary school. Immediately, what follows in the play is not the general ethical jam of the territories below the equator, but the removal of religious debris and greed that insist on denying rights and dispositions to the autonomy of populations, whose presence is nothing more than an echo of a chorus weakened and distant. Likewise, the dialectical operation of the work suggests a new historiography, which considers a component of the discussion on page 25 of the cited edition, in which Friar Manoel do Salvador says that the act of betrayal is “historical subtlety” and, after several accumulations , is defined in the corner of Bárbara glass snake, whose imperative “pay attention, pay attention” commands several very useful statements to think about the misunderstandings and contradictions of the official history of Brazil: honor, possession, constitution of the person and class privileges.


data for analogy

These markers of the work are seen in the light of its ever-present aesthetic constitution. The commentator asks for permission to offer other historical data associated with the theme. The historical-poetic experience takes place in colonial Brazil very close to the time projected by the actions of Calabar, the praise of betrayal. At the end of the 1590s, the commentator worked with inquisitorial process number 5206, which incriminated the first Portuguese-Brazilian poet, Bento Teixeira, author of a work in the style of the Lusíadas in honor of the deeds of members of the Albuquerque family.[ii]

This is the already famous poem in epic rhythm called Prosopopoeia. It turns out that Bento was a New Christian, an expression quoted in the play on page 70, when the elucidative passage uses language common to the confessions of the Holy Office and which Friar Manoel, Nassau and the consultant take part, who brings news of the capitalist conglomerate of the Indies Westerners. In Frei Manoel's reading, as well as before in José de Anchieta, this land is a place for MMA, because even New Christians, baptized under the eyes of the Portuguese Inquisition, return to Judaism and do so by circumcision in the public square. This moment of inquisitor in Frei contrasts with his real faces before circumstantial rulers, Portuguese or Dutch, which confronts him with the character Bárbara in search of enlightenment.

The poet Bento Teixeira, pressured by torture and fire, denounced a large group of Judaizers and took the opportunity to also denounce alleged Christians of origin and their far from evangelical behavior. Thus, he betrays oaths and pacts kept between prisoners and the great list of praised betrayals leads him to a simulacrum of pardon, since in the beginning of the XNUMXth century he is found dying in a Lisbon prison. Like him, hundreds of Brazilians and Luso-Brazilians were condemned, or pardoned, after “beating” their crimes against the Church in the light of the list of evils perpetrated by the settlers and posted on the doors of churches. An inquisitorial process is a volcano of betrayals, inventions, misrepresentations, a phenomenon that certainly needs to be considered when studying the history of Brazil then and today.

An inquisitorial process, a phenomenon that permeates the entire chronological time of the play, has its exchange value in betrayals. However, after the Holy Office put the names of the supposed infidels on the doors of the Colony's churches, there was no longer any room for the false jubilation imagined by Friar Manoel. Just in case, this nascent society has nothing to do with Eldorado. In the specific case of Bento Teixeira, he also transforms the confession into a fictional work, full of quotations from the Greeks, Romans and teachers of the Church. Within the fictional construction, the New Christian poet criticizes, as if he were denouncing – and therefore betraying – other practitioners of Judaism, the horror of the pressures and tortures suffered by the prisoners of the Holy Office, both in Brazil and in Portugal. He creates literature within history, which saves his sad condition as a traitor and whistleblower, an illusory bargaining chip in life with authoritarianism.


Deconstructions and reorganization of history

In the land processed, sold, looted and managed according to the interests of the powers of the occasion and their technological competence, Calabar, the praise of treason, deconstructs, point by point, what could be something homologous to the inquisitorial acts. In this sense, it reveals its character as a story dramatized by characters liberated by the horror of libels and admonitions. It signals, therefore, autonomy and freedom, values ​​that are rarely present in the colonial experience.

Without pretense of being exact, and less of being definitive, it is worth suggesting the three movements indicated at the beginning of this reflection. Due to the very method revealed by the work, three defining moments of the theme were indicated: the state of the story, which is situated up to the moment when the powerful gentlemen, Mathias and Hollande, finish their difficult physiological work, followed by the solidary cleaning with leaves dried bananas and are followed by Friar Manoel's hilarious cry against tyranny and for freedom, which best suggests the tyranny of diarrhea and the freedom to defecate on Brazilian soil.

This is followed by the interiorization of the individual stories into the collective, with subdivisions that have as their epicenter the death of Calabar, the plot of the executioners and their succession of tricks, indispensable both for the justifications of consciences and for Barbara's powerful arguments. Moment three, necessary for the dialectical attitude suggested by reading and listening, is an extraordinary ritual, notably played out by women and which is called here the aesthetic refoundation of stories. In it, Friar Manoel continues to exercise his role as a real doormat, which loses consistency with the end of Nassau's demise, but does not lose his only important role, that of a courier, whose meaning becomes dust and then nothing. It disappears when discourses escape Manichaeism and an authoritarian reading of the world, the only places it can cling to.

The constituent movement of what was called the first part of the work contains all the components of the plot: the lines that are not dialogues, but parallel discourses that signal the distances of interests and loyalties, musicality and poetics as antennas for the illumination of the future and true characterization of the characters, because, as a language, such lights escape the characters. In this movement, all the enunciations necessary for the work of the following statements are given, always signaled by the violent linguistic figures of the metaphorical axis, such as the valence of diarrhea as an epic, of a betrayal as a detail of subtlety, of the hateful friend, of sugar transformed into the most important cult, of death made number, maidenhair in the caatinga and ideal of immense Portugal. The valences sometimes, and many times, give way to ambivalences, indispensable linguistic instruments for processes of demystifying the official discourse that usually lasts in history.

If the metaphorical axis can very well serve romantic discourses, in the antinomic game of weakened or decadent powers it signals carnivalesque tones and fills the mouths of the owners of small powers, as seen in the preposterous platforms of government of the Dutch Colony and of the Portuguese sebastianist, established in the first part of the piece and dialecticized in the following ones in a beaten path to its dissolution. If in 1590 the desired Brazilian epic dedicated to the Albuquerque family by Bento Teixeira turned out to be heartbreaking, as there was no longer any consistent mythical force for such an undertaking, imagine decades after the crumbling of the contending forces. Hence, the best literature of the time belongs to the hot-mouthed Gregório de Matos, who has reason to say: “God save me! The one who walks farting/Dear as a lover/On the outside gloves, braids/Insignia, weapons, sticks/Inside moldy bread”.

The long movement of what has been called here the interiorization of individual discourses in the collective has the exact force given to it by the women protagonists whose songs guide the dissolved meanings of the betrayal perpetrated by Calabar, his innocuous confession, his death and a whole learning process that organizes findings and awareness processes, again very similar to the everyday philosophy present in the works of Agnes Heller and Paulo Freire. The continuity of the dialogue that the theater provides becomes conducive to dialecticizing the appearances of power, the mythification of institutional apparatuses and the grandiloquence of discourses, systematically questioned.

However, it is worth remembering that the play reveals full knowledge of the inquisition's way of killing and its counterpart, the colony. Friar Manoel takes the confession of Calabar, who repents “with many tears and compunction of spirit”, the “I” means nothing, because after making the confession the defendant is “relaxed to the secular arm” to use words from the inquisitorial documents, which it means that the Church washes its hands and delivers the condemned to the executive power, to armed force. At the shameful execution of the conscious and autonomous young man, Albuquerque leaves the scene, which is organized by an amalgam of common sense speeches about betrayal, strongly shaken by the power of the songs and speeches of Bárbara and Anna. The two ends of this movement of conscience are realized through the song of the enlarged body that we have followed for so many decades. Tattoo and its rebound in the body reunited by consciousness, glass snake, in the third movement. The indispensable counterpoints are given in Anna's voice, either by the frevo esculacho There is no sin south of the equator, subsequent to the dialogues about the ambivalences of betrayal (or as Frei said, betrayal depends on historical subtlety) or by the ironic sign of the conscience present in Wins in life who says yes, sung at a moment in the dialogue when no one in power exists.

Like Albuquerque, Nassau also only has the final speech to leave, without distinction or glory, deceived by the greatness of sugar and by the visions of a new capitalist organization, panaceas for our alternating cycles, in the midst of which the only cycle that did not take hold in Brazil was democracy and social justice. Therefore, whoever says yes wins in life is a test and a challenge, as well as everything that is good for everyone is good for Brazil.

The great historical-moral debates of the second movement guarantee the coherence of the last part. Souto and Calabar may even be confused, but they are not the same. In fact, he is the only antagonist with any historical weight to sound Barbara's arguments in the last movement of the play. The differentiations become clearer as a challenge, so that the character who intends to be transversal to everything and to take advantage of everything loses place in the story, Friar Manoel do Salvador, who no longer serves his minimal role as a confessor and who diminishes in the supposed greatness of his praises. What emerges is a long and painstakingly sewn line of autonomy (which contradicts Nassau's statement that everything is treason), of the exercise of rights, strongly debated in the intersubjectivity of the characters in earlier moments of the play.

The traitorous autonomies of power, even when dismembered and shattered, are capable of multiplying and gaining consistency in a superior symbolic domain, which is that of sanity, joy, praxis that educates and produces meaning in the patchwork of history. As Albuquerque's speech had already been submitted, Nassau's speeches and his fawning religious also fade away. The discourse “of what is good for Holland and is good for Brazil” (discursive panacea) of the latter, in a nominal sentence (often a banalized political motto) turns into a sentence to be worked on in the mysteries of social practices that culture elite has always used to its advantage.

In this extraordinary piece, such misappropriation is strongly questioned and made even more solid in the final song. Calabar, the praise of betrayal, is the creation that our children and grandchildren should not have stopped reading and/or seeing before finishing the last year of basic education, under the mediation of a well-trained educator. The institution of a democratic society and a culture of citizenship could guarantee new and fruitful readings, capable of a better understanding and explanation of “the most famous initiates in the mysteries of betrayal”.

* Luiz Roberto Alves is a senior professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP.



Ruy Guerra & Chico Buarque. Calabar, the praise of betrayal. Rio de Janeiro, Brazilian Civilization, 1973.



[I] Here we work with the 6th Edition of Civilização Brasileira, 1974.

[ii] The work referring to the historical and textual analysis of the 5206 process, which resulted from the master's thesis of the author of this text, was published by Ática in 1984, under the title Confession, Poetry and Inquisition.

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